God and Mammon

Stephen Marsh Mormon 58 Comments

We are conflicted about wealth in the Church.  A goodly portion of members are neo-Calvinists, certain that fore-ordination and inherent grace are both manifested by wealth.  There is no conflict between God and Mammon because Mammon is God’s delivery man.

There are also many who assert that all wealth is really theft or luck.  Any spending that is not wealth transfer is an accession to Babylon.  C.S. Lewis has a great discussion of this mindset in The Great Divorce.

So, which group is right in their denunciation of the other as unholy?

Both, obviously.

After all, when Christ was asked to pick between the Pharisee and the Sadducee camps, we all know he went with the [Iron Rod] [Liahona] group, didn’t he? Or did he condemn them both and suggest that the truth was not found in either camp?

So it is with the way we often look at wealth.

Comments

comments

Comments 58

  1. Ha, I feel a bit out of place in the Church sometimes because most of the members I know of have money and I’m dirt poor, and since LDS daughters are taught to not be unequally yoked, I am finding it hard to get married.

  2. It seems that many of the upper Church leadership are men of wealth. Some may claim this is a byproduct of being someone who works hard and succeeds at whatever they do – business or church. Who knows? But it does seem that you have more of a chance of being called to a position like that if you are more wealthy.

  3. Good post. This is also an issue because of the intersection of LDS religious thought with political ideology here in the US. You’d hate to think that we were in alignment with the “word of faith” preachers like Rev. Ike and Jimmy Swagert, et al. who preached that Christians, because of their faith in Christ deserved wealth.

  4. #2 I believe that this is due to the Church almost only calling mission presidents who are wealthy enough to serve a 3 year mission w/o pay. Because mission presidents are the pool from which most seventies are called, only the wealthy are able to become the general leaders.

  5. … i hear all the time that so-and-so was only able to become a mission president because of the money they had saved up. My response is that the tithes of some of these mission presidents is enough to support a spiritual, but non-wealthy man of god as a mission president.

  6. The conflict in the Church over wealth is because people find it hard to live God’s laws. Mormonism is not neo-Calvinism. Mormonism is the stewardship/consecration model. If you have something, it isn’t yours, it was given to you to take care of by God.

    The God/Mammon conflict is a false one. In Mormon theology, all things come from God and all things belong to God. You try and keep them for yourself, you will be conflicted.

    The conflict comes from the rich’s lack of charity to the poor — that simple.

  7. I think both points of view are caricatured in this post, which is probably the point.

    Personally, I started out in the “Mammon” camp, but it didn’t last long once I found out the consequences of my actions.

  8. I have noticed slight undertones of the Calvinist prosperity theology in both my immediate family, and several of those with whom I associate. My Dad for example, who has been very successful despite his lack of a college education and a few other setbacks, is very adamant that his success is the direct result of having “lived the gospel”. He has held many prominent positions at the Stake and Ward levels, and is recognized as a strong leader in his circles. My theory as to how his mind works in this regard is that he see’s his Church leadership callings as validation that he is pleasing God, and by extension his professional success must therefore be both a reward (for lack of a better term) and additional validation. He constantly urges us that if we will live the gospel and honor covenants God will bless us always.

    I have always been torn over this line of reasoning because on the one hand, this worldview does contribute to some level of humility. In other words, he looks at his wealth and realizes that his personal wealth is based on some major externalities. It also causes him to truly act in a manner that is more dependent on God. On the other hand, he also misses the major socially observable problems with this rationale. First, there are people within his own Ward who are just as righteous and more so, who yet have serious financial difficulties (often because they chose careers with high social benefits and low personal rewards). In such cases he must begin making judgements as to why he is blessed and they appear not to have been. Needless to say it has been the unfortunate impetus for self-righteousness and arrogance. This worldview also tends to trivialize global poverty issues, such as the famines, crime, disease, and overall misery rampant throughout Africa, etc. When your attitude is just “turn to the Lord”, then it becomes easy to dismiss those issues without contributing to constructive solutions. It also fails to acknowledge that even the Mormon theology on money as taught by Jesus in the New Testament, or in the Book of Mormon (class struggles), or even Satans manipulation of society via money as taught in the endowment.

  9. I wonder sometimes if the conflict mentioned in Cowboys comment is because we wrongly view wealth as a blessing? Sometimes it isn’t the blessing we assume it to be, so who is to say that someone who appears to be financially struggling isn’t being blessed in a different way that works better in their own life? Certainly not everyone can handle the “blessings of wealth”. And I have to question whether we simply need to adjust our view of God’s providence. Why does “wealth” seem better than simply having one’s needs met? It seems to make sense that God would want to bless us with our needs when we are doing his work, and that so much above that (even though we have a hard time keeping this perspective in our society) is really serving our wants (even when those wants may be righteous desires).

  10. Tachyon Feathertail — you have it right.

    JD — I was dirt poor for a long time, I appreciate your pain. Got married at 29.

    the narrator — I’ve known college professors who were mission presidents, retired military men, etc. A lot of those people were never very wealthy. Dallin Oaks could have been wealthy, but the life path he took was not one that led to wealth.

    Just saying.

  11. Fwiw, I think the central issue often is a mis-application of the Book of Mormon “prosper in the land” theme.

    Too many members view it as applicable to individuals, when, if you read the verses that include that phrase carefully, it’s quite obviously a reference to communal prosperity. This is especially obvious when you consider that EVERY SINGLE TIME the people shift from a communal application (where they share the collective wealth with those who are not rich) to an individual application (where they become proud of their wealth and cease to share generously with the poor) they splinter and lose their communal prosperity.

    I see that misunderstanding among lots of members – since it’s not natural to share generously with others. It might be the heart of the social Gospel of Jesus, but it’s not easy to internalize – especially in such a materialistic culture where individual wealth is valued above almost all else. I understand why it leaks into the Church so easily, but it still saddens me to see it.

  12. JD, I’ve been dirt poor for a long time. Got married at 21. Have six kids. Chose education as my life’s work. Pretty much explains why I’ve been dirt poor for a long time. 😀

  13. I would submit that not all within the Church are conflicted about wealth. Of those that are conflicted, what percentage of them consider themselves to be poor as opposed to wealthy?

    Scripture teaches that both the rich and the poor can be guilty of sinning regarding mammon. Which sin is greater…the love of money and failure to care for the poor OR the coveting of and greediness for things we do not possess ourselves?

    I am curious as to how Cowboy’s “mind works” as regards his father. Why would any son choose to theorize (which here results in a negative representation of his father)rather than just believing in his father’s own words (which here could have resulted in a positive representation)? If his father has constantly taught them that living the gospel and honoring covenants results in God’s blessings, which is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven, then it is just as likely (maybe more so)that his father has approached his callings with humility and a willingness to serve the God that he loves and this has qualified him for the blessings he has received. If his own father verbally credits living the gospel and God’s blessings with his successes, why does his son choose not to believe him?

    Context is important in order to make accurate comparisons. People who had a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and enough food to sustain life were not those that the bible refers to as “the poor”. According to Strong (and Trench) the “ptochos” in the Bible are those who must beg for their daily bread, or for alms, as they have no other way in which to provide a living for themselves. “Penes” are laborers, those who “earn their bread through daily labor” and while they do not live in luxurious homes or enjoy leisurely circumstances, they are not abjectly poor, starving, or forced to beg in order to survive. The penes are mentioned exactly once in the NT (when quoting the OT); all other times are references to ptochos.

    It might be a good exercise for those who consider themselves to be “poor” to reflect upon whether or not they truly are. Being “less wealthy” than someone else doesn’t automatically constitute poverty. I wonder how the truly, genuine ptochos would view those of us whose standard of living allows for not only a roof over our heads, and food, and clothing, no matter how basic) but also for a home computer AND internet access?

  14. If we believe that the law irrevocably decreed in heaven grants us wealth and good fortune, then when bad things happen to us, I think we will look more like Job’s friends, rather than Job.

  15. I’ve been very blessed in my life – why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because I have enough, but I don’t really care about money. I was just as happy living on $300/month on a mission. I’m able to give to charity. I’m able to give to people around me. I’ve been lucky enough to help more unfortunate folks.

    Ironically, the thing that has most influenced my attitude towards others from a more “Calvinist”, conservative, Republican-type of mentality to a more liberal, other-centered mentality has been through studying Buddhism and meditation, etc. I see us all as much more interconnected and part of the same journey here on earth. It has really been very eye-opening. It has changed how I approach my profession, my fellowman, and everything else.

    The fascinating thing to myself in all of this is that I was raised in a very TBM household. I went on a mission. I served as AP. I was married in the temple. I went to a decade and a half of post-graduate school. I’ve served in multiple Church callings. I read the BofM probably 10-15 times, including the cycles of prosperity and bust. I was driven to accomplish more and more. And then a crisis of sorts happened. And despite decades in the Church, I didn’t really have the tools to deal with it. So I expanded my journey. Amongst other things, I found more peace in Buddhism that I have ever found anywhere else. And relating to this post, I had a great expansion in love for my fellowman.

    So, why is that? Why do we talk about consecration and sharing and the love of Christ and etc. in this Church so much, but at my core, it never sunk in all the way? And why, when I studied a religion/philosophy that doesn’t even really define God as existing or not, to be honest, have I developed the charity I never had? I don’t know. But I am a much better person now that I honestly don’t think I would ever have been if I stayed “true” TBM.

  16. Mike S – I think it’s also unseemly (at least in the church) for someone to be “supported” by the church in completing an assignment or calling because it puts that person in the category of career evangelist rather than unpaid volunteer. We suddenly can’t claim we have no paid clergy. The church is very cheap (rightly so) in the stipends and allowances made to individuals who volunteer for programs. But it’s also not really proven feasible for the church to cover nothing.

  17. I have some extended family members who are constantly critical of anyone who they think of as wealthy (their definition of wealthy is anyone who they believe has a higher income than they do). They have all of their material needs met and yet they still seem very envious of those who seem to have more, and often compare themselves with others in ways that emphasize that their priorities are righteous while others are materialistic etc. This is ugly and I think an often overlooked aspect of how some of us justify ourselves in our own worship of mammon.

  18. #14

    Allow me to point out that every time the scriptures mention people prospering in the land, and becoming “rich” in physical ways (as opposed to just spiritual)-what is it that brings about that prosperity? Obedience to the laws of God.

  19. Of course, you can get rich without being righteous or your riches can cause you to become less righteous. Personally, I agree with E that the reverse problem is more of an issue in the church: those of lower means judging the actions of those with more wealth and wondering why God is blessing others, not themselves. We don’t really have a prosperity gospel so much as fairly accurate general observations on human nature.

    I read that 75% of people would rather be a 6 in a world of 4s than an 8 in a world of 10s. That’s this mindset at work. It doesn’t matter to people how wealthy they are, so long as they are wealthier than most others around them.

  20. In light of Apollo’s remarks I should note that I hold my father high regard. I believe he is like most of us, he is trying to do the best he can to be a good person and do what God wants him to. I do however think that his view regarding wealth as it relates to “blessings” is a tinge off. I should also note that his financial success has been quite substantial. I don’t mention this to brag or criticize, but to point out that it is very easy for a person to let that get to their head – particularly when their conclusions tie financial/professional success with religious adherence. But what about those who do not achieve much in the way of personal wealth, what should they conclude – and what should we conclude about them seeing as how there apparently is a law irrevocably decreed about prosperity/wealth and religion. Suffice it to say if the pairing of success and religion leads to humility, then good. If it leads to assumptions about a persons righteousness, then bad. I’ve noticed a little of both in my Dad, but I see this in others – frankly speaking, myself included. Having a basic background in economics, as well as a good amount of personal experience with “wealth” and “wealthy” people, I can only conclude that the doling out of resources has been strictly arbitrary. Perhaps that is why Jesus was so concerned about the poor. After all, if they truly earned it, charity wouldn’t be very practical.

  21. A fascinating post. And the perspective likely depends where you live.

    I especially appreciated Ray’s comment about the collective propering in the Book of Mormon promise compared with the individual prospering.

    I think the United States, in particular, fosters a certain get-ahead spirit which is not inherently bad, but which colors the thinking of some US-based saints.

    I have been in a position before to observe fast offering contributions, which are, unlike tithing, much more variable compared with one’s means. It was always humbling to me to note the incredible generousity of some contributions. Similarly, I’ve observed individuals with real needs refuse fast offering assistance because “that money is the Lord’s for someone who really needs it.” Very humbling, indeed.

    Yesterday in Priesthood, we talked about Alma 34, and Amulek’s teaching to pray over all our temporal concerns (house, flocks, fields, etc), and the point was made that when we sincerely pray about those things, we have the opportunity to humble ourselves and to understand better how the Lord would have us use our resources (whatever they are) to serve our families and our fellows.

    Finally, I’ll just comment that sometimes we do not see the ways in which others share their resources.

  22. Paul, you make some excellent points. Cowboy, I appreciate your clarifying and expanding on your comments. We don’t always see eye to eye, but you did an excellent job here.

    hawkgrrrl, one of the hardest things for people to do is to live below their means. My wife and I have been doing that for some time now. In our last ward some of the people started to believe we must be failures of some sort. How could we live there (excellent schools, wonderful neighborhood) if we were doing well? Our new ward (which we moved to because of family issues with my daughter and school) has a nice range, though I should note that 90% of the people in the old ward were better than great. We’ve really been blessed, over all, in our last few wards.

    But I’ve seen the other, both sides. People whose kids refused to do chores at camp (our ward doesn’t clean) — as a group (our ward) because they were wealthy and therefor obviously entitled not to. People who snarked unmercifully at those with more money. I know someone who almost walked out on their parents 50th wedding anniversary over the amount of jealousy and bad feelings they were the target of.

    Interesting stuff. Especially as we, as a people in this country, even the poorest, are wealthy by global and historical standards. I eat better, sleep in a better bed, wear better fitting clothes from better fabric than Louis the 14th, the Sun King did. I like my art better too 😉

  23. If you tell a rich person and a poor person that you want to start a business, this is typically their responses.

    Rich: Go for it, you can do it.
    Poor: What are you going to do that for? There’s no money.

    The rich think different. God never said man couldn’t enjoy the fruit of his labors.

  24. The law some are talking about is not the church. It is the law of heaven which was restored with j. smith this is consecration and unless anyone on this page is secretly living this law there is no blessings given to us. As result of our obedience to covenant, because we are not keeping our covenant until we live up to the law and live consecration.
    By the law, justice and mercy (mercy being the law itself which we perform with loving our neighbor and justice being the other commandment to love the one true living god.
    Not to say that there are blessings given to us in lesser degrees, like giving charity in secret so the receiver don’t feel like you are there master. This mercy can result in a blessing (but also not to be expected)

    The church to me is a slap in the face mocking all of us. they have more money to spend and they will do what every they what because they have to account to no one for there actions they are free and clear of justice and there mercy or charity is trotted out sometimes for pr, to hold it over the heads of the poor that you need us, you can’t do this with out us, I will be your master and sustain you, not just when you come to the bishops office to ask for enterce to the food store but all of us in our spiritual self as well, we are here to mediate you from god.
    my question though is what god are they working with because my god would not allow anyone to be poor all are to be equal so all can become gods otherwise we will all continually be slaves to mammon

    If they were so grate they would give all there money back to everyone in the church and say there will be no poor or rich among us.

  25. When charges of Calvinism or the Prosperity Gospel are leveled, I think it appropriate to look at our cultural history. Most LDS were either Presbyterians or Methodist converts in the early days, religions that were heavily steeped in the gospel of good works and blessings. Even Joseph Smith lamented this strain that remained with the church as he ratcheted down his own expectations on consecrations from Kirtland to Nauvoo. This is not a new struggle, and in other areas of the church that do not have this cultural strain (such as in South America) it doesn’t pack the same punch I would gather. My experience in areas of Florida where many of the converts came from a Baptist or Evangelical background, the grace elements are HUGE. People stand up and confess all kinds of sins and they’re ready to hold hands and forgive on a dime. We’re all a reflection of our cultural genealogy, despite the instructions in gospel theology.

    That being said, I echo Joseph Smith’s sentiments about wealth. He didn’t have a problem with wealth (he wasn’t very wealthy himself until maybe close to the end), but the term he seemed to struggle with was property, or the amassing of property. In other words, it seems that he didn’t have a problem with a sole proprietor gaining wealth through his own business savvy and hard work, it was the property hounds and investors (like WW Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, and the Whitmers in Farr West and the Fosters, and William Markses in Nauvoo) that annoyed his economic sensibilities. The classic term for the amassing of capital in order to either invest for gain or to collect rents is capitalism. In other words, how do we get out wealth? Amassing greater and greater amounts of property is probably one inappropriate way, plus it leads to other isms and olopolies. The other is how we SPEND our wealth, in other words, what do we do with it? Does it go to help others, to amass more wealth greater than your needs determine, or to spend extravagantly in order to keep up with the Joneses? Mormons are not particularly good as a whole at defining these lines.

  26. Speaking more close to home (rather than our cultural history), I would guess that the subtle and unofficial pairing of Mormon culture with conservative right wing politics is partly to blame here. I have noticed with many people in Utah, including some of the local right wing radio hosts (Bob Lonsberry), there is a strong overlapp between political ideology and their perspectives on faith. In other words they often juxtapose the two to the point where some political issues like extreme free market perspectives and individual wealth accumulation via capitalism are seen as spiritual ideals.

  27. This is very ironic. The “ideal” society held up in the early days of the Church was consecration – we were just unable to live it. If you look at the worlds admittedly imperfect societies, the closest model we have to this in many ways is socialism/communism. Granted, there are obvious differences, but it seems ironic to me that the closer we come to “consecration” in the US at least, the louder the members of the Church seem to be. It makes it easy to see why consecration failed.

  28. #6 Ulysses: “The conflict comes from the rich’s lack of charity to the poor — that simple.”

    Brigham Young didn’t think so — he observed that both the rich and the poor were guilty of covetousness; the rich as to their own goods and the poor to others’.

    MikeS — I’ve seen some interesting research that indicates that the more ideologically liberal a man is, the more likely he is to be a moral leper on a personal level. Evidently we human beings have a threshold at which we consider ourselves justified. We can obtain to that level either by what we do, or by the opinions we hold. I have known (and had the displeasure of working for) plenty of allegedly bleeding-heart Democrats who were the biggest jerks humanly possible. (I have also noticed a pronounced association between personal meannness and “Mean People Suck” bumper stickers.) Of course this works with plenty of Mormons, too — like the iron-ribbed Iron Rodders who seem to actually relish damning the unorthodox, but have thoroughly un-Christlike tripwire tempers, or the aggressively tolerant New Order types who do the same thing from the opposite direction, demanding that their spouses join them in their rejection of whatever Mormon doctrines they do. It seems we tend to fill up our Treasury of Merit with credits either from the Thought or Deed departments — and once the gauge reads “full,” we are free to be as selfish as we want.

    In short, this obviously selfish conservative Republican says phooey to “other-directed” liberal sainthood. I’ve known too many liberals.

    And consecration at the point of a gun, isn’t consecration. This should be obvious. As someone said, the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. It may be the case that some human needs are so expensive and widespread that providing for them by redistributive taxation is the only way to address them, but it is beyond dispute that the more compassionate tasks government undertakes, the more individuals feel excused from freely doing their own part.

    As for the OP generally, it’s amusing how younger Mormons, who are often on the left end of the wealth bell curve, warn against the dangers of wealth, whereas the dire warnings about sexual immorality most often come from older men “whose natural force is abated.” We always Jeremiah the loudest about the sins we ourselves are least likely to commit.

  29. #29:

    “That being said, I echo Joseph Smith’s sentiments about wealth. He didn’t have a problem with wealth (he wasn’t very wealthy himself until maybe close to the end), but the term he seemed to struggle with was property, or the amassing of property. In other words, it seems that he didn’t have a problem with a sole proprietor gaining wealth through his own business savvy and hard work, it was the property hounds and investors (like WW Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, and the Whitmers in Farr West and the Fosters, and William Markses in Nauvoo) that annoyed his economic sensibilities.”

    Amen. There is a special place in hell reserved for real estate speculators. Been the root of a huge percentage of the evil in American civilization, from the dispossession of the Indians (in which the flippers were typically at the leading edge of the developing conflict) to the economic destruction of the present day. Every morning, I check to see if the fire and brimstone has hit the Irvine Business Complex (ground zero of the subprime/option ARM bubble) yet. Any day now….

    ‘Course, Joseph himself seems to have dabbled in a little property flipping in Ohio and Nauvoo, but nobody’s perfect.

  30. Stephen M – “I eat better, sleep in a better bed, wear better fitting clothes from better fabric than Louis the 14th, the Sun King did. I like my art better too” I often think these same thoughts as well!

  31. “but it is beyond dispute that the more compassionate tasks government undertakes, the more individuals feel excused from freely doing their own part.”

    I am of course aware of the argument which suggests that as taxes increase for redistributive purposes discretionary income decreases, therefore individual capability for charity decreases. This then becomes a question of whether redistribution is more effective, equitable, desirable, appropriate, righteous, etc, via one means vs the other. This however say’s nothing about how an individual feels towards charity. It is tempting to accept pseudo maxims such as what Thomas argues is “beyond dispute” when they are articulated in such sophisticated language. Even though it may sound good, it is hardly a universally accepted truth – beyond dispute even – that social redistribution stifles personal attitudes on charity. And were it in fact true, what does that even mean?

  32. 31. Mike, I believe consecration didn’t fail per se. The 1840’s versions were dismal failures, but the 1870’s and 1880’s versions were remarkably successful. The end of consecration came at the point of the sword through gilded age GOP politicians when they rammed the anti-polygamy stuff into law. In order to become a state, Utah not only had to abandon polygamy, but economic and political Mormonism as well. It’s also quite an overreach to compare consecration with the political machinations today to redistribute wealth. But our modern-day capitalist system is just as far away from our 19th Century roots as well, so I don’t know why we venerate it so much, except out of political indemnification due to all of the Red Scares and associations with Communism as secret combinations through the McKay-Benson era. It’s only logical to see the enemy of my enemy as my friend, but in reality, state capitalism was just as an enemy to Mormonism in 1890 as Communism has ever been in the 1960’s-today. There were a few mining operations in California that fought for the Mormons because of market potential, but those were few and far between. The JP Morgan types were afraid less in polygamy then the fact that Mormonism was providing a viable alternative economic structure to the gilded agers.

  33. If you’d like to read about how Mammon shapes God at the Church Headquarters, there’s a new book called “The Book of Mammon” by Daymon Smith, on Amazon. It looks pretty good, and he’s the guy who did the Correlation stuff over on BCC.

  34. #35 Cowboy:

    “Even though it may sound good, it is hardly a universally accepted truth – beyond dispute even – that social redistribution stifles personal attitudes on charity. And were it in fact true, what does that even mean?”

    “Beyond dispute” may be too strong. “Strongly indicated” is better. What I don’t think is disputed, is that self-identified conservatives tend to donate a greater percentage of income to charity. I think (but can’t recall for sure) that is is true even after accounting for conservatives’ donations to religious charities, which of course shouldn’t count because they’re motivated by oogedy-boogedy superstitions that God will smite them if they don’t give, not true charity. The other research I referenced (but again am too lazy to re-look up) gives a possible explanation for this: Liberals’ intellectual support for ostensibly “selfless” provision for the poor (and plenty of non-poor) through taxation gives them the same self-satisfaction that supporters of inherently heartless conservative politics have to buy on the side with actual personal contributions.

    “pseudo maxims…when they are articulated in such sophisticated language.” IOW, gasbaggery dressed up with pompously flowering language. Guilty as charged re: second point, but there really is substance under all the decoration.

  35. #37 Peter: “The JP Morgan types were afraid less in polygamy then the fact that Mormonism was providing a viable alternative economic structure to the gilded agers.”

    If by “viable economic structure,” you mean the subsistence agriculture of the isolated Mormon collective communities, maybe. Although I question the long-term viability of that structure, had it not been abandoned, as soulless capitalism steadily increased the gap in material well-being between the consecrationists and everyone else.

  36. # 39 – Thomas:

    Fair enough, I too am lazy – so much so that I don’t want to dispute your studies. As I recall there was a bit of a political ruckus regarding a study which showed that conservatives had a better track record for personal charity contributions. I am always skeptical of such studies, but admit I have little interest in disputing the findings with anything more than my skepticism. By the way, I’m closer to a moderate regarding the economy – I believe in a reasonably well regulated competitive market (I know, reasonably well regulated is quite relative), but I am at a bit of a loss with terms like Conservative or Liberal because they seem to say more about who your team is rather than what your views are. That’s my unsolicited take.

  37. I think that personal charity sounds good in theory, but it breaks down in reality. I give a lot of money to the Church so they can build buildings and send out missionaries and administer everything, but is this really “charity”? Am I really helping the poor with the thousands and thousands I give? Have I paid any one’s doctor bills?

    There is always the argument that, yes, the Church does humanitarian things to which I agree. In reality, though, that comes out to about 1% of the money I give to the Church ($4 billion estimated “income”, $40 million published “humanitarian aid”). So if I make $50,000 per year and give the Church $5000, then $50 went to “charity” and the rest went to build up the organization of the Church. I don’t see how this $50 is going to pay someone’s doctor’s bills or help them with food or housing or much of anything.

    So, best case scenario – conservative & religious givers to charity: less than 0.1% of income goes to “charity” if they are counting church donations as “charity”. If someone skips the church middleman and actually gives to causes to directly help the poor and needy, perhaps they give 1% or 2% or 5%. And this is best case. Apparently, the “liberals” give even less than this, and the other half of the country are the ones receiving anyway.

    Therefore, my faith in “voluntary” giving to cover the needs of the more unfortunate among us is jaded. We therefore need to decide as a society if we care about the “poor among us” enough to make policies to help them. And if we decide as a society that there is merit in that, unfortunately, it will only be through obligatory means to make that happen, as voluntary means aren’t enough.

  38. Cowboy-thanks for clarifying about your father. He sounds like a really great man and as someone whose father is not longer alive, I envy you the chance to learn from, and love him, in person still.

    Some of the most “spiritual” men in our scriptures were wealthy men at some point. Lehi, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph of Egypt, David, Solomon etc. Wealth-as in money-is inert. It has no power to affect us personally for good or bad. It is how we view money, use money, that makes us good or bad. It has been my personal experience that the more money I willingly give to fast offerings or other charitable causes, the more money we are blessed with, with which we increase our giving again.

    To Mike S.-

    I think that building up the kingdom of God is the most desirable charity of all. Tithing dollars build temples in places where people could not afford to build one themselves and provides them with eternal blessings that far outweigh physical ones. It builds church houses in poor communities that shelter people in emergency situations, create places for worship and teaching of principles that DO help people live more profitable and productive lives.

    Everything we have is the Lord’s, and He commands us to return 10% of it in the form of tithing to Him. What He chooses to do with it, or how He directs it to be used in His Church is no business of ours.

    We are ALSO commanded to be generous with our fast offerings, which go strictly to the poor. Don’t you pay fast offerings? What we pay in fast offerings adds up to a whole lot more than $50.00 a year. This money DOES sometimes pay someone’s doctor bills or provides for medical care. The Church also provides counseling services,job placement programs, and funds Bishop’s storehouses.

    100% of the Humanitarian Aid donations given to the Church (which aren’t tithing dollars) are used to relieve the poor and afflicted because the Church absorbs it’s own overhead. (lds.org) Most of the workers in the humanitarian centers are missionaries and volunteers.

  39. Mike, the problem I have with the liberal paradigm is that it’s not just a matter of “deciding as a society if we care about the poor among us enough to make policies to help them.” Clearly, we do. We make policies and programs and entitlements by the billions and trillions — and still have poor people. Reasonable people can question whether these well-intentioned policies aren’t subsidizing into existence quite a few of the problems we’re trying to solve. I’ve noticed that the more government decides to help out with the furnishing of a commodity (see, e.g., healthcare, higher education, residential housing), the more expensive it gets. Price discipline goes out the window; ironically, the commodity then becomes so expensive that “Only government can do this!” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    There are two types of poor person in this country. The first kind’s problem is simple: They don’t have enough money. Great, so let’s give them some more. The concept of a guaranteed minimum income has supporters among even economic libertarians like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek. This approach is surely preferable to the present approach, in which the government Administers Programs for the Poor (and everyone else it can cram into the “needy” category, so as to maximize its role) — and invariably ends up distorting the bejeepers out of the market and creating a huge overhead-slurping bureaucracy, none of whose sinecure-holders can ever be laid off. As for the second kind — the people who consistenly self-destruct — I suppose we do have to provide for them, somehow, but since they truly are a bottomless pit, there have to be some conditions on the help they are given. Government’s resources, believe it or not, aren’t infinite, and at some point triage has to be done.

  40. @Thomas of #42 Wow, you make some pretty clarion points there. ones I have traditionally disagreed with. now you got me thinking.

  41. I’m about half way though “The book of Mammon” and he has addressed all the things you guys are talking about. He worked at the church office building
    And I didn’t know they had all these other companies that are just an arm off the church they use this arm to shuttle money around well not earned money but charitable money they get from us, they even invest in the stock market with these other arms and tithing money.

  42. aj, there is a newspaper that runs this analysis every year. You ought to catch the articles they write.

    Also, you should study any large group. Most groups rather than put all of their money in a bank savings account, do place it in areas where it tends to generate more interest than passbook savings.

    What you appear to be doing is taking a spin off of normal behavior that fits within what is usually considered best prudent practices.

  43. aj,

    Um…first of all, here is what the author himself said “Very entertaining, very insightful, and, as the author, I can say, certainly enough to offend every reader (but it’s fiction, so don’t get too worked up). Thanks for considering this book.”

    The Amazon.com review includes this: “A compelling, light-hearted but serious memoir, fictional ethnography, and, yes, even apocalypse, this book crosses genres, fact, fancy, and everything between.”

    In other words, the book is not completely true or completely factual.

    It’s never been a secret that the Church owns many companies/businesses/properties etc. Some of them are FOR profit companies and some are non profits. Those businesses also produce income that pays for things that our tithing and fast offerings could not possibly cover.

    Just exactly how much money do you think it will take to build the City of Zion some day? To establish a city so large and so encompassing that it will draw the righteous of the world into it? Maybe the Church realizes it’s going to have to pick up the tab on that one…and if they need a head start, I’m all for it.

  44. #32 Thomas:

    “I’ve seen some interesting research that indicates that the more ideologically liberal a man is, the more likely he is to be a moral leper on a personal level.”

    I’d like to understand that better. I’m imagining the morally superior barons of industry that enslaved working men and their families in coal mines at the turn of the 20th century.

    Or the endless supply of conservative politicians who step out on their wives and families.

    Or the laissez-faire capitalists who destroyed such value in the US (and global) economy in the last few years.

    No moral lepers there.

  45. “Just exactly how much money do you think it will take to build the City of Zion some day?”

    If the Church were true, then the social cost should be a broken heart and contrite spirit. But seeing as how even the loyal followers of the supposed restored Church believe that the treasures from heaven are obtained from that which moth and rust doth corrupt, I wonder what has happened to the doctrine? Does God need your money, and if so what good is he? Remember Jesus’s Kingdom is not of this world, and neither he or his disciples fight for it the way we do.

  46. Surely Paul you realize that there are “liberals” in every political party, every church, every civic group, every neighborhood?

    There are many famous liberals who are also capitalists, and barons of industry, many of them step out on their wives and families, and many of them were involved in the destruction of the global economy.

    Can you provide statistics on how many liberals vs conservatives were involved in the economic collapse? How many of each benefited from it? How many of each are still trying to destroy it further?

    Since I consider “morals” to be eternal principles regarding behavior (not principles defined by society or any other group)those people whose behaviors/actions/words most closely match them are the most moral, and those whose behaviors/actions/words match the least are the most immoral.

    Oh, and my US history brain cells aren’t what they used to be, but I could swear that most of the coal mines operating at the “turn of the 20th century” were in Confederate states. The Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery activists in Union states, as an opposing party to the Democrats.

  47. “Or the laissez-faire capitalists who destroyed such value in the US (and global) economy in the last few years.”

    I think you have in mind the crony capitalists (i.e., regulatory-capturing, rent-seeking looters) of Goldman Sachs and their merry men, who operate in one of the least “laissez-faire” regulatory environments anywhere in the economy.

    Residential housing and finance are hugely distorted by state action, between the GSEs, the Basel Accords and the Recourse Rule, the ratings agencies’ effective state-granted monopoly, the Federal Reserve’s insane monetary policy, the Community Reinvestment Act (which didn’t have quite as much effect as some conservatives think, but it wasn’t chopped liver, either, and certainly did more to facilitate the credit crunch than the repeal of Glass-Steagal), and the “Greenspan Put” for entities Too Big to Fail.

    Call it the Statist Ratchet Cycle: Assert a need for further government involvement; then, when the smartest guys in the room game the system to get even more money flowing to New York investment banks (and really, who’s going to win the race between an underpaid bureaucrat counting the days ’til retirement and an amoral top-of-his-class financial math wizard?), blame “laissez-faire capitalism” (which hasn’t remotely existed since the McKinley administration — dang, I miss that poor man…), and demand yet another round of increased state involvement to undo the harm the last round caused. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Re: “moral lepers”, this is extrapolation from the concept of “moral licensing.” Examples:

    “Do Green Products Make Us Better People? (Psychological Science, August 27, 2009) Nina Mazar, Chen-Bo Zhong. Interesting quote: “In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.”

    Sachdeva, S., Iliev, R., & Medin, D. (2009). Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation Psychological Science

    That bears out something I’ve noticed myself — that conspicuous “right thinking” can license personal jerkishness. I had the misfortune of working once for a prominent and conventionally liberal member of the Orange County Human Rights Commission. Let me just say that junior associates were not among the classes of humans he believed had rights. Sure, you’ll find moral lepers anywhere. Not saying that we evil grasping greedy conservatives are immune from human nature, or even that they’re necessarily more moral as a group than t’other side — just that the phenomenon of “moral licensing” is real.

  48. “the Community Reinvestment Act (which didn’t have quite as much effect as some conservatives think, but it wasn’t chopped liver, either, and certainly did more to facilitate the credit crunch than the repeal of Glass-Steagal)”

    The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in the 70’s, and was not proceeded by a hyper-inflated real-estate bubble. It did not missalign incentives for financial institutions or create conflicts of interest which led to high-risk speculation from commercial banks. I agree that it was questionnable action for the Federal government to take, as it increased bank risk, and complicated risk management, but to say that it led to the credit crunch independent of the repeal of Glass-Steagall is more than I would wager. I wouldn’t debate an argument which suggests that it contributed in conjunction with deregulation via Glass-Steagall, but deregulation opened the flood gates of demand for loans with little regard for risk. It is clearly demonstratable that loan offerings for sub-prime borrowers were never so generous as they were following the recovery in 2004 and post Glass-Steagall, notwithstanding nearly thirty years of The Community Reinvestment Act.

  49. It was not so much the CRA per se, but rather the increasingly aggressive use of the CRA against lending institutions in the late 1990s to push down lending standards that helped light the fuse. Collateralized mortgage obligations, though they preexisted this period, were what banks increasingly turned to to spread the risk of the loans they were being pushed to make. Those instruments were then increasingly abused, not just in CRA-related transactions, but across the finance industry.

    I’m still waiting to see anyone explain how the repeal of Glass-Steagall (whose main function was to separate investment banking from commercial banking) had anything to do with any of this. Institutions that took advantage of repeal, institutions that didn’t, and investment banks and commercial banks alike all threw lending standards out the window. The bad loans that would have the four biggest banks insolvent right now (if honest accounting were applied) could have been made if they were pure commercial banks.

    The problem was never “deregulation.” (What specific regulations caused the problem? Don’t bother pulling a Krugman and going all the way back to Garn-St. Germain; that’s almost as old as the CRA.) The problem was “failure to regulate” — specifically, the Recourse Rule’s ridiculously low reserve requirements for mortgage-backed securities, or the Fed’s failure to exercise its authority over lenders to forbid “liar loans.”

  50. Admittedly I have no primary research on this, but the argument is that with the repeal of Glass-Steagal as commercial and investment banking practises intertwined, investment banks put pressure on their commercial bank arms to issue more loans in order to feed volume into the MBS/CDO derivatives markets. This combined with low interest rates fueld by market incentive for mass lending, and Fed cooperation, precipitated into a housing bubble as mortage loans became more accessible and therefore demand increased. The repeal of Glass-Steagal in effect created a market where conservative risk management in banking was abandonded in support in order to facilitate a robust securities market in high yield hedge funds.

  51. I surmise that the problem of poverty is access to capital, not food, shelter, and water. When we can get serious about figuring out how to help people gain in their own personal capital, these problems will be solved at least for the willing among the poor. For those that just need the fish everyday, we have ways to do this, but as Ben Franklin suggests, “we need to make them uncomfortable in their poverty.”

    I can handle a small amount of socialized charity, if it’s LOCAL, taxed through non-theft means such as a sales or VAT tax, and limited enough to encourage those of subsistence to do something else besides take a handout. Perhaps an augmentation to the income of he or she who actually gets a job as menial as it is instead of collects the checks and the food stamps without any effort.

  52. Peter, that’s the balancing act and ethical dillema with charity. A few weeks ago I was getting off of a belt route exit on 215 in Utah, where at the top of the exit was a young lady with sign taking handouts. She of course had a worn appearance which tugged on the heartstrings of most of us who were waiting, so many of the cars ended up handy this woman a little cash. When the light turned green I headed south on the road which naturally passed the other three freeway routes, where conveniently planted at each ramp were similar looking young ladies to the one who had just duped me and others on my exit.

    On the other hand, in Provo there is a man who I have on occassionally given a little money to and who I have been watching for over ten years. I have in a few instances tried to talk to him, only to come away with the impression that he suffers from some type of mental disability.

    The dillema rises out of the assumption that we are either going to place restrictions so tight on social programs that we manage to mitigate abuses, but at the same time fail to deliver the aid effectively to those who the programs intend to serve. Conversely, we can make the qualifying parameters so loose that we distribute the aid more effectively while accepting abuses. The next complication is setting the ambiguous and relative standard which determines who truly needs the assistance and who is just milking the system. The extremes on both ends are generally easy to spot with good concensus, but placing the dividing line for those closer to the center is a bit harder to do with near unanimous approval.

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